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Stocks drop in shortened session

By Aubrey Pringle
Bloomberg News

NEW YORK: Stocks fell Friday, erasing gains in the final half hour of a shortened trading session, as declines in phone and financial shares offset a rally in online retailers on Black Friday.

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. fell 3 percent after the government of Australia blocked a $2 billion takeover of GrainCorp Ltd.

Internet companies eBay Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. gained at least 1.8 percent. Best Buy Co. and Coach Inc. advanced more than 1.4 percent as retailers opened their doors to holiday shoppers. Apple Inc. rose 1.9 percent after a report showed the company sold three of every four smartphones in Japan last month.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.1 percent to 1,805.81, reversing an earlier gain of as much as 0.4 percent. The gauge advanced 0.1 percent for the week for its eighth consecutive increase, the longest winning streak since 2004.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 10.92 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,086.41.

Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 8.9 percent below the 30-day average. U.S. markets were closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and trading ended at 1 p.m. Friday.

“It’s a very light volume day,” said John Manley, who helps oversee $233.6 billion as chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo Funds Management in New York. “The last few minutes on the Friday after Thanksgiving are going to be subject to light volume.”

The S&P 500 rose 2.8 percent for the month of November. The benchmark gauge has climbed 27 percent in 2013, poised for its best year since 1997, and the Dow has gained 23 percent after the Federal Reserve refrained from cutting back on its third round of economic stimulus.

Minutes of the last Fed meeting released on Nov. 20 showed that officials are considering scaling back their $85 billion in monthly bond purchases “in coming months” if the economy improves as anticipated. Four out of five investors expect the Fed to delay a decision to begin reducing the stimulus until March 2014 or later, according to a Bloomberg Global Poll on Nov. 19.

Central bank bond purchases have helped push the S&P 500 up 168 percent from a bear-market low in 2009. Fed policy makers have been scrutinizing data to determine whether the economy is strong enough to withstand a reduction in their bond purchases.

Investors are awaiting reports on manufacturing and home sales next week, and the November release of non-farm job payrolls on Friday. Janet Yellen, who will replace Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Fed, has said she will ensure monetary stimulus isn’t removed too soon to support economic recovery in the U.S.

“There’s going to be a very sharp eye on the incoming economic data, with the economy really being important to the next steps for the Fed and the markets,” said Gary Flam, managing director and portfolio manager at Los Angeles-based Bel Air Investment Advisors LLC. Bel Air manages $7 billion in assets.

A report Friday showed euro-area unemployment unexpectedly declined in October, the latest indication that the bloc’s recovery is gaining traction. Separate data on Thursday showed economic confidence in the euro region improved more than economists forecast to a 27-month high in November.

Millions of Americans hit the malls for Black Friday retail shopping. The cost of hedging against losses in U.S. retailers has slipped to the lowest level in more than three years as investors speculate that an improving labor market and falling gas prices will stimulate holiday sales.

U.S. retail sales climbed at a faster-than-expected pace in October, a measure of consumer sentiment beat estimates this month and jobless claims last week fell to their lowest since September, signaling a strengthening U.S. economy. Gasoline prices are near their lowest since February 2011, while home sale prices are climbing at the fastest rate since 2006.

Sales are projected to advance 2.4 percent this holiday, the smallest increase since 2009, the year the recession ended, according to researcher ShopperTrak. Faced with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, retailers are pouring on the discounts to lure customers.

Many chains opened earlier than ever this year to win market share.

“The general mood is that we’re going to have growth this year in terms of holiday season shopping, though probably less than before the crisis,” said Aaron Izenstark, co-founder and chief investment officer of Iron Financial LLC’s Iron Strategic Income Fund in Northbrook, Ill.



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